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W. Dwight Armstrong provides new perspective on large-scale farming

W. Dwight Armstrong discusses issues in feeding the world, small and large-scale farming and technology and modern farming.
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W. Dwight Armstrong

W. Dwight Armstrong /Courtesy of Calvin College

W. Dwight Armstrong spoke at Calvin College's January Series

W. Dwight Armstrong spoke at Calvin College's January Series /Renato Delos Reyes

W. Dwight Armstrong recently spoke on the topic of Feeding the World and the Future of Farming at Calvin College’s January Series. Armstrong is the CEO of the National FFA Organization - formerly Future Farmers of America - and received his Bachelor of Science in Animal Science from Murray State University, earned his Master of Science in Nutrition from Purdue University and received his Ph.D. in Nutrition from Purdue University.

Armstrong set up his talk by giving some fascinating statistics. There are currently about 1/3rd of the farmers compared to during the 50s and 60s. Currently, farmers produce three times as much food as the farmers in the 50s and 60s.

According to Armstrong, the population is expected to be upwards of 9 billion in 2050. In order to feed the population, he asserts that food production must increase by 100%, 70% of which must come from new technology. Armstrong called this the challenge of feeding the world and this statistic was really at the crux of his talk.

Armstrong is clearly a supporter of using new technologies to help increase food production in farming processes, and in turn, large-scale farming. The rest of his talk confirmed this.

There were many issues that Armstrong mentioned, such as population growth, sustainability and food security. However, there were two issues on which he chose to focus: large versus small-scale farming.

Armstrong finds that many people seem to associate large-scale farms with large corporations and small-scale farms with families. Although, he defended large-scale farmers more vehemently than champion the small-scale local farmers, Armstrong was adamant in his support for all farmers.

Armstrong believes that the widely thought of portraits of large-scale farming as the faceless, corporate and motivated-by-profit farmers is not necessarily always accurate. According to Armstrong, many large-scale farms are also family farms and he believes that relying on small scale-farming alone will not satisfy the world’s hunger.

“Going back to the way we did agriculture in the 50s and 60s is not sustainable,” says Armstrong.

According to the statistics provided by Armstrong, as the population increases, it will be very difficult to produce enough food to sustain everyone in the world without the use of technology in agriculture and without large-scale farms.

Armstrong also discussed the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms, more commonly referred to as GMOS.

According to the Human Genome Project, GMOs are organisms whose genetic makeup have been altered using a special set of technologies. Armstrong discussed golden rice as a GMO that helps to mitigate Vitamin A deficiency in poor countries.

Armstrong believes that GMOs can actually help to solve some of the malnutrition issues in poor countries around the world.

Without the technologies used in the agricultural practices with golden rice, young children in poorer countries would be suffering from malnutrition and Vitamin A Deficiencies.

Listening to Armstrong's talk forced me to look at my personal views on local farming and the local food movement from a different perspective. Many people, including myself, seem to over-romanticize the notion of local farming. It is comforting to see the farms where your produce and groceries ares coming from.

If nothing else, Armstrong’s talk made me question my negative view of large-scale farming while also forcing me to rethink my blanket support of small-scale farming.

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